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Diary: Ian Marchant

31 December 2021

ISTOCK

Real absence

IN MY last diary column (8 October), I said that I had been elected to the deanery synod at a PCC meeting. The week after that appeared, a letter in the Church Times pointed out that I hadn’t been properly elected, since election can take place only at an APCM. As the PCC secretary (aka my wife) had just written to the deanery-synod secretary telling her of my “election”, I was now expected at the next meeting — unlike the previous meeting, to which I had sent my apologies, although no one knew who I was.

Now, rather than apologise for my absence from the first meeting, which I didn’t attend — the one where nobody was expecting me (and to which, it turns out, I wasn’t actually elected) — if I attended the next meeting, where I was now expected, I’d have to apologise for my presence. My wife, in her position as PCC secretary, felt that she had little choice but to write to the deanery-synod secretary, informing her that I wouldn’t now be attending the meeting at which I was expected, as I hadn’t, in fact, been elected. I hope this clears up any confusion.


Party spirit

THERE was great excitement at St Andrew’s, Presteigne, when it was announced that Radio 4’s Any Questions was to be broadcast from the church on 3 December. It was the hottest ticket in town. My wife got up early, and went online to make sure of our seats.

We spent the following week honing our questions. Mine was the sort of thing that a ranting nutter might shout at a passing politician; my wife’s was clever and astute. Come the night, when the hundred-strong audience had all taken their seats, the editor explained what would happen next. Seven questioners would be selected, and asked to come to the front.

They called out the names of the questioners — “Number One: Hilary Marchant.” There came loud applause, and even cheers. Unlike Question Time, the Any Questions audience is not vetted for its political allegiances, and it was clear that progressive Presteigne had snapped up pretty much all the places.

The moment came, and my wife asked her question: “If you were invited to a Christmas party at Downing Street, how would you respond?” The first member of the panel, a well-known political commentator, answered without hesitation that he would attend, glib answers being his stock in trade. He wasn’t worried about hypocrisy in politicians, he said, since it was only to be expected, as all politicians were hypocrites.

This dangerous idea is a favourite of the Right, and its aim is to discourage people from voting, because, after all, why bother? They are all as bad as one another.

What I found difficult about this is that the panel member is an avowed Christian. I may not like him, or what he said, but we are brothers in Christ. I am relatively new to church, and I wish I knew how to deal with fellow Christians whom I dislike. I have a lot of work still to do.


Thing with feathers

DURING lockdown this year, I was recovering from chemotherapy. In January, I got a call from my oncologist about my post-chemo CT scan. They were pleased that the tumours in my bones had shrunk; but, unfortunately, I’d picked up a pulmonary embolism along the way — sorry.

So, for the first four months of 2021, my morning routine was: get up, say the Lord’s Prayer, inject stomach with blood-thinning drugs, listen to Popmaster with Ken Bruce, and read the great American writer Wendell Berry. His collection of essays The World-Ending Fire is not just my book of the year, but has made its way into my (constantly updated) fantasy Desert Island Discs list.

I read one essay a day, to make it last as long as possible. When I finished the book, I sat down one morning and wrote him a letter (he lives and works in Kentucky), in which I told him that his book had given me hope. Two months later, he replied. I’ll keep his wonderful, two-page reply to myself, for now. Suffice to say, he caused me to question an easy idea of hope.

What struck me afterwards was that it is not odd to read work by American writers who are Christians, but that, in the UK, for a mainstream literary writer to admit to having a faith is unusual. Off the top of my head, I can count their number on Homer Simpson’s fingers — and one of them is me, and I’m not that mainstream. Or literary.


Step in time

I’VE been researching the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, and feeling some solidarity with the island of Foula, and with the Gwaun Valley, in Pembrokeshire, where they keep Old Christmas Day when the rest of us are celebrating Epiphany. Either way, it is a time of gifts — and, despite everything, it is hard not to feel hope, when we begin to understand the gifts that we have all been given. Now, I guess, we need to learn to open them.


Ian Marchant is an author and broadcaster, and the founder of Radio Free Radnorshire.

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